It’s in.

I survived.

I didn’t do a darn thing yesterday but sit and watch real people do real work and I was exhausted.  Actually I’m still exhausted, but in my defense I did work in the yard at the old house this morning.  It’s hot in Ohio this Summer.  Too hot for my tastes.  Where’s my nice climate controlled, super insulated (from the heat), passive solar house when I need it?

Right now, it is an arrangement of pre-fabricated cement wall panels that were arranged on Friday with surgical precision to within 1/8″ of an inch across a 190’+ diagonal from one end of the house to the other end of the garage.  In fact Superior Walls and Fike Excavating worked with such surgical precision and expertise all day, it was rather boring for me.  Exactly how I hoped it would be. Nothing I had worried about in preparation for “foundation day” came to fruition.

The day started out with Superior’s crane and the first load of wall panels waiting for me in the drive and road respectively.  Not knowing what to expect I said “hello” and was greeted by Ryan and Carl from Superior (I’m pretty sure I got their names right). Ryan proceeded to back his crane up my 1/4 mile long driveway, right past my neighbor’s large tree.  Then the moment of truth came as the first semi with my 10′ tall basement wall panels turned off of the road and approached the 90 degree turn around the tree. Viola! Around the tree, no problem.  Sigh of relief on my part (yes I smiled just a lil’ bit). These guys are good.

The first truck, a sleeper cab no less, cuts around the big tree with ease.

Here's Superior's crane parked between my studio and the garage. Very cool.

 They quickly set up the crane and the semi parked in front of what will someday be the garage.  It started to rain and of course I left all my rain gear at home.  Driving home to get my raincoat did two things: 1) assured the rain would stop for the rest of the day, and 2) caused me to miss how they put the first two wall panels up.  They’re 10′ tall panels…weigh like 2,000 pounds each….I don’t know, maybe one guy held it up while they waited to lean it against the next panel.

Wall panels being installed. They are bolted together and caulked at the seams. You can see all the integrated insulation and the metal stud faces.

 That panels go up quickly and soon it’s time to back out the semi to make room for truck number two.  The semi backs out of the upper portion of the drive and then to turn around it requires our excavator to lift up the back of the trailer and swing it around.  We have very little room for this type of operation but these guys are pros and it happens without a hitch.  Quickly the second truck comes up the drive, around the tree in one shot and parks on the job site.

The second truckload of panels goes in. Note the large basement window. I have no idea what we’ll use that basement room for but it will have a large window.

The Superior Wall system goes in quickly.  A truck driver, crane operator and two technicians on the ground make easy work of my foundation.  Actually in this heat it’s anything but easy.  It’s still physical labor.  I sit on a rock and watch.  So helpful. 

The foundation going in quickly is one of the reasons it appealed to us.  It took just 10 or 11 hours from when the crane showed up to when it left.  In that time team put up over 332 linear feet of fabricated wall sections, about half of which were 10′ in height.  A mason would’ve been out there hauling block for a week.  My walls are perfectly true from what I can see and dialed within an 1/8″ of location specifications. Our Superior Xi walls come with 2-1/2″ of Dow insulation built-in (R-12.5) and we’ll be adding another R-20 worth of insulation when we complete the basement.  When we go to finish off the basement I can screw my drywall right to the Superior Wall metal stud facing which will save me time and money; another reason we chose them for our foundation.  I also like the idea that it’s an engineered wall system.  I’m a designer by trade and I guess I gravitate to products that are more technical / engineered and designed rather than just slapping a bunch of raw materials together.   All these panels are made in a factory out of reinforced concrete.  Everything is strong, true and bolts together. And as we all know I’m lazy, so I like the idea of the entire foundation installation being one day, having integrated insulation and being able to attach drywall right to the panels.  There are even knockouts for my wires and plumbing.  No fuss, no muss. A lazy “do it yourself” homeowner’s dream.  And that’s me. 

My foundation beats your foundation every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Setting the garage walls. You'll see some EPS foam on there but none of the Dow XPS blue board that are on the house panels. The garage is uninsulated so we don't need it. We were going to have the garage be block but in the grand scheme of things, it was easier to do the garage in 4' tall Superior Walls.

By late day the third and final truck rolls up to the job site.  This one carries the remainder of the 4′ tall studio and garage panels.  Our excavator had everything prepped to Superior’s specifications, even so just a little massaging of the prepped footer areas is needed.  It’s tiring work in this heat but the Superior technicians are positive and knowledgable.  By 5:30 pm the walls are in.  The last semi truck is coerced off the job site and headed back for the 5 hour drive to Lima, NY.  The crane is packed up and easily maneuvers down the drive in the deft hands of its operator.  Driving that crane on the freeway has got to be tedious.  

A special thanks to our excavator Jonathan Fike and his dad, David (Fike Development), for being on hand all day and helping to get the semi’s in and out of the property and mending the driveway.  Once again they helped make a stressful situation for me and make it worry free.Completed foundation looking across house towards garage.

 And that’s it.  The foundation went in just fine.  Now we move onto about 2 weeks of some really finesse type orchestration of tasks and trades to get the first floor deck on, the basement poured and everything back filled.  I don’t know if my stress level went down any after yesterday.  I do know that I need to drink water when I’m out there.  I was burnt when I got home.

And I didn’t even do anything.

For information on Superior Walls check out:

Impulse Buying for Sport

Alright, I planned on taking the night off.  Kick back, eat my peanut buster parfait, watch Hell’s Kitchen and then probably play some Call of Duty (yes, I’m basically a 14-year-old boy in a man’s body).  Not think about tomorrow.  Not think about the large semi truck with my foundation on it.  Not think about how they said “we’ll try our best not to run over your neighbor’s [100-year-old] tree” when they deliver the foundation and haul a crane up my driveway.

I wasn’t even going to post to the blog.  But I just had to tell you about my, our, impulse buy tonight.  Christine told me about an email we got from a local ski resort where we do one of our art shows at.  I checked it out and it struck accord with, I think, number 4 or 5 on my list of reasons of why we’re moving to the country.  Because in the county you can do whatever the hell you like and go off and buy something like this:

Our new addition to the house project.

It’s a vintage 1977 quad ski lift chair.  Just about the most random, coolest thing I can think that we’ve ever bought.  A steal at $200 if you ask me.  Bought completely on a whim with no idea what we’ll do with it.  But it’s ours.  And I’m pretty sure not too many of you out there know anyone who has an authentic ski lift chair.  I so badly want to put it inside the house but alas I think I will lose out to the “turn it into a swing” crowd.  Either way, I don’t care.  Maybe by the outdoor fireplace.

Send me ideas.

After all this day-to-day planning, battling everyone (it seems) at times, working all day, working all night, fighting nature, praying to god, tempting fate, and so forth, it was so refreshing and liberating to say “what the hell” and just go out and randomly buy something that has very little practical value. 
I was really stressing out about tomorrow (and secretly still am to a certain extent) but you know what? We’ve got a chair lift chair now.  And it makes me smile.

Gang Aft Agley


The older I get the more worry. 

The more I over think. 

The more I annoy the bejesus out of pretty much everyone I encounter. 

I promise to be better.  I’ll start next year (I procrastinate too).  I’ll start as soon as I have a plan in place.  And a contingency plan in case something goes wrong.  Of course the problem lies in that I don’t plan very well or rather I don’t plan that often.  Instead I charge ahead at the front end and deal with everything on the fly as the wheels fall come off.  When I do plan I think of every angle without coming to any real resolution most of the time.  Basically an organizational top spinning around waiting for life to happen.

When building my own house, I’m quickly realizing that a) It probably wouldn’t have hurt me to plan more and b) the reality is nothing goes as planned anyway so I should have golfed more before I started building.

Not that anything is going tragically wrong, rather a lot of little “middle of the road” things kinda go unplanned and then either resolve themselves or result in, you guessed it, a change of plans. Expectations, design, realization, design, expectations, fill out forms.  Pay some money, expectations, realizations, wait two weeks. Do some work, pay some money, expectations, realizations, watch the rain.  And so on and so on, for roughly eight months…..we hope.

We’ll have some budget challenges coming up since we allotted more money to some areas and have run over on the excavation with our blue clay incident.  I suppose a soil core test would have alerted us earlier, but wouldn’t have saved us any money. Based on our research we were not expecting the blue clay.  And I don’t think it would have nixed the project even if we had known.  I guess  lesson learned, do a soil core test just in case.  We were able to save some money (and add a green feature to the project) today by ordering recycled rigid insulation, so not all is bad news.  We can balance the budget too when we get to finishes and delaying some built-ins like bookshelves.

One plan that did work out was we were planning to get the footers inspected today and we passed with flying colors.  Yay for us!  Knock on wood, but anytime we have anything to do with the government, it works out great.  Mother nature, not so much.

All the drain tile (which is really plastic pipe) is laid.  These series of pipes will collect any water on the outside of our foundation and route it away.  The cement thingy (it’s late, and I forget what it’s called) that forms the collection area for the sump pump is in too.  The sump pump and it’s pipes (I think there are pipes) on the interior of the foundation will collect water and pump it out before it can get into my basement.  It’s placed in the lowest point of the basement excavation.

Picture of the approved excavation. All the gravel will be for the floor. The Superior Wall system will rest on the gravel around the perimeter. My studio is the higher portion on the left. the sump pump crock is the little round thing at the opposite corner from this vantage point.

Tomorrow we’re going to lose one more cherry tree I suspect.  It’s the one near the garage that we tried to keep even though it’d make backing out of the drive difficult.  Well, turns out it may make the foundation install go smoother so I’m pretty sure it’s coming down.  I took a picture of it today.  Out of the three cherry trees we saved, it’s the nicest.  There goes that plan.

To the left of the drive in this picture is the cherry tree they'll most likely take down tomorrow. To the right is the garage. The semi and crane coming on Friday will have to thread the needle between the two. That's why they get paid the big bucks.

 Everything looks really spread out and open, but that’s because of the 45 degree walls on the excavation.  Tomorrow after work I’ll lay down some vapor barrier where the walls are going.  Additional vapor barrier will go down after the walls are in, before I go to lay down the rigid vinyl and they pour the basement floor.

My biggest worry right now is getting the semi-tractor trailer and crane back to the job site  on Friday.  That should be interesting as our driveway is pretty crazy and goes across my neighbors property.  I’ll either be really happy or really sad Friday night depending on how it goes.  Also weighing me down is the insulation will be coming in on another semi-tractor trailer next week. When that comes I’ll have to unload it by hand near the street.  I don’t even want to plan for that but I have to.  Not expecting that to be a happy endeavor.

Foundation hole as seen from just outside the screen porch. My studio is the higher ground on the right. With the blue clay, we laid down stabilization fabric just like we did under the driveway.

Well, here’s hoping I’m filled with promised joy on Friday, regardless of whether or not things go as planned.  I guess the real plan is to get the foundation in without destroying anything. 
If that happens then I’ll be happy as a mouse.



Pretty uneventful day, which is good.  I stopped by the job site and most of the basement is dug.  I’ve got to remember to grab some blue clay for my horse shoe pits and I’ve got some nieces and a nephew who want some to play around with.  My house may fall down but I’ll have the world’s nicest clay ashtrays come Christmas time (just kidding).

On the plans we moved the location of the main steel beam over the weekend.  Looking at the hole I realized I forgot to tell the excavator when I saw he’d dug one of the beam post pads already.  Hopefully it’s not too much hassle to move.  I suspect I’m not the greatest customer in the world, but I try harder than most.  Nothing some beer and a cookout can’t fix once it’s all over.  Or so I like to believe.

As we start to pick out finishes and select fixtures, I’m coming to terms with the fact that everything we pick out is the most expensive items known to man.  Our tastes run pretty eclectic yet mainstream, peppered with a dash of overspending.  We’re like fish in a barrel for Madison Avenue.  Our tastes subconsciously know nothing of “buying locally”.  I go to look up the websites of the porcelain tile and laminate we want and they’re all in Italian. That’s okay, I think a lot of our appliances are made in the USA along with some of the plumbing fixtures we’re looking at.  I’m not being religious about locally sourcing; it’s more a function of time, effort and doing the best I can.  Eventually I’d like to go to an antique shop or Habitat for Humanity shop and see what I can discover.  But everything else from big box stores, to contractor stores and online are in play.

As far as sustainable materials, we’re not going hard-core in that area either.  I would love reclaimed wood floors, but the preliminary pricing is coming in higher than cookie cutter common wood floors.  We’ve gone over in so many other areas, I’ll cut and run from that dream.  I will spec non-VOC paint and look for “green” carpeting though.  And we’ll have a metal roof with a high reflective value, that’ll help the cause.

There are a lot of other things we plan on doing and many things we still have to research.  At this point in many regards I’m like a caged animal living day-to-day, goal to goal, issue to issue.  There’s a fair amount of “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there”, which I have no problem with.  That’s my independent streak coming through I suppose.

Rest of the week is more digging.  They’ll lay down some stone and prep the column pads in preparation for the foundation install next week.  Hopefully the rain holds off.  I could use a week of sunshine and “uneventful”.

Peace of Land

It’s been a quiet weekend at the job site.  We pushed back the foundation install about a week.  The intense rain and heat has delayed digging the hole and getting the site prepped for the Superior Wall system installation.  And being the heat of the building season, getting back on their schedule means finding a free day when they can make it out here.  We’re going to install a sump pump and some fabric for the foundation so we can use the extra time for that, plus there will be an inspection that the excavator will line up for us as well.  We’re working with Fike Excavating and their team has been great to work with.  Their professionalism, expertise and experience have proven to be a great benefit to us as we self manage this project.

We took the opportunity of a free Saturday to go out and look at plumbing and flooring options.  It can pretty daunting to make all these selections so it doesn’t hurt to start earlier rather than later.  We actually already have had to choose our appliances so our cabinet builder could get started.  We met with our extraordinary finish carpenter / cabinet builder on Saturday as well to finalize the design of the kitchen.  The kitchen is the one spot we’re overspending on from the get go.  Okay we’re overspending all over, but the kitchen is the worst in that regard I suspect.  We enjoy cooking and it’s where we’ll spend a lot of our time.  I’ll show you more in the future including drawings and a photo of the kitchen we stole out of Dwell magazine.  The kitchen sink is something we’ll have to select in the next week or two, even before one board is nailed on the house.  Flooring-wise we started looking at tile, switching our mindset from real slate to what I call industrial looking porcelain that looks a little like cement.  This is the fun stuff and helps relieve some of the stress of building a house all by yourself.

Since this weekend is so quiet, I figured I could tell you about some of the stuff we did before we broke ground (in no particular order).  Our land used to be part of an old century farm and from what I’ve heard our portion was an old pasture.  We bought it because it was a nice mix of open and treed areas.  There is a nice mix of plants and animals and a lot of interesting viewpoints.  Christine called it “Happy Friendly Land” after our first visit over a year ago.  And that was on a rainy wet Spring day where the cloud ceiling seemed on top of us. 

Picking black berries on our "Happy Friendly Land" in the summer of 2010

About two weeks before we got our permit to build our friends Barb and Corky came out and performed a land blessing on the property and building site.  We met them at the property for the twenty-minute ceremony.  The first thing Corky did was place two crystals in the earth to protect anyone whose path crossed between them.  This would benefit our family, our workers and guests. He then commenced with the ceremony by “smudging” us which involves burning incense and letting the smoke waft across us to “cleanse” us.  A traditional sounding prayer was read; I’m going to say it was along the lines of a native american prayer, though I’ll leave it to him to correct me.  What I need to do is get a copy and put it up in the house once we move it.

Reading of a prayer over our land. Me standing there with a camera like a tourist.

 Barb then drummed up to the house site.  We followed corky along as he spread corn meal as an offering.

Corky beating his drum as we make peace with our land.

Once we reach the house clearing, Barb recites blessings to each of the directions of the compass: east, south, west, and north.  Corky spread more cornmeal along the site of where the house is to go.  I follow along getting covered in ticks and taking pictures.  Finally Christine and I make our own offering in the form of a hair plucked from our head and we say a short silent prayer.

Spreading corn meal and drumming at the house site. This is about where the driveway and garage is going.

I’m really glad Barb and Corky were willing to do this for us, kind of like our first house-warming present.  One of the main reasons we’re moving out there is to be closer to nature and instill a sense of respect and partnership with nature in ourselves.  Blessing the land and letting her know that we mean no harm will hopefully help keep us, the land and all of our workers safe and protected during the course of the project.  All of which is very important to us on a very personal level.  The land is looking pretty rough right now but I’m sure it’ll bounce back once we start getting the house up.

Tomorrow is Monday so that means back to work for me as well as on the job site.  Also I’ve got an existing house whose bushes and grass look horrible so I need to get them whipped into shape.  Another day, another adventure I’m sure.

Bloom Is Off The Rose

We had two rose plants that I transplanted last fall.  They were both gifts from me to my wife.  I figured best to transplant them in case we sold our house (stop laughing) in the winter and I couldn’t transplant them in the cold.  Turns out the spot I picked was just about the worst and the Fall rains wiped out the one plant that was as tall as me.  The smaller plant, that at one time I had nursed back from a twig, was done in by the Spring rain and a second attempt at transplanting.  The symbolism is not lost on me, especially after a long week 2 on the project.

Building a house is a god awful, miserable, experience.

I don’t even respond anymore when I tell people I’m building a house and they say “How cool”, “I’m envious”, “Sounds like fun.”  Or the best one, “You must be excited.”  Define excited.  Is it exciting to consistently wake up at 3:57 a.m. unable to go to sleep worrying about some aspect of the new house falling apart, while my left eye twitches uncontrollably?  Is it exciting to watch your budget swing wildly in amounts equal to new Land Rovers?  I certainly don’t get excited as I measure out the house for insulation and come up with a different number fourteen times in a row.  Not exciting.  I don’t get excited.  I drive up to the Quickcheck, buy a twelve pack of Budweiser and contemplate if I can make it to Wyoming before anyone misses me.

Building a house is about the least enjoyable experience I can think of short of any real tragedy such as death, famine or being kidnapped by Ecuadorian Rebels.

I have not gotten back the soil report, but from what I hear we’re supporting 1,500 lbs. psf which is what we thought all along.  I’m going to beef up the crushed stone footers to 12″ x 24″ and we’ll lay down stabilization fabric.  Also we’re going to install a sump pump, just in case the blue clay is more aggressive than it looks.  We’re still on schedule for foundation installation next week.  My happy foundation walls are drying somewhere up the road in the New York heat I suspect.  I talked and emailed quite a few people and I’m sticking with the original plan regarding the foundation with the adjustments noted above.  I think I’m doing my due diligence and I guess only time will tell.

When I said I had everyone looking at our foundation, I meant everyone. Daphne examines the basement plan and can't make heads or tails of it. She spends the next two minutes licking her butt on the print and saunters off. I'm pretty sure she thinks I'm an idiot.

 I did not go out to the site yesterday or today.  Spent most of my time on email, phone calls and pouring over books regarding the soil and foundation.  I did attempt to measure for the XPS & ISO rigid insulation that will go under the slab and the exterior walls.  I think I’ve got a good square foot estimate.  We’ll have to order that soon.  Also, since we’ve got a free Saturday we’re going to start looking at plumbing fixtures and flooring.  Which is good because it’ll get my mind off of all the “exciting” parts of the project (add to that bank, appraisals, disgruntled neighbors, etc. etc.) 

So not every day is rosy when designing and building a house.  The bloom is definitely off the rose for this project.  But roses bloom again.  So I’m sure once we get framing, picking out wall sconces and debating the pros and cons of this stone versus that stone our rose will bloom again.

Though with my track record for helping rose bushes, maybe I need to be more hands off.

Blue Clay Blues

My house will fall apart but I’ll have the nicest pond and natural swimming pool in Ohio.  You know that picture I showed you yesterday?  The one with the cool top soil and the cool greyish blue streak of soil at the bottom of the hole?  Well I got a call from my excavator and apparently we’ve got “blue clay” where we’re digging the foundation.  Blue clay is awesome for horseshoe pits and lining ponds (water won’t penetrate it), but horrible for building a house on (it can barely support my weight after an all night chicken wing bender I suspect).  It actually is worth something in those regards, so the wife wasn’t too far off when she jokingly asked if we hit oil or gold when I told her the excavator hit something while digging. 

Alas, suffice to say I’m not rushing out to paint “Blue Clay for sale” on a cardboard sign.  I’m a little bit preoccupied with building a home for my family.

This is what "blue clay" (the clump in the middle) looks like compared to regular clay (the brown stuff all around). It really is blue.

 Regular clay that we have here in Ohio can support on the order of 3,000 pounds per square foot (psf).  And of course my wimpy blue clay can hold about 800 lbs psf.  So my gravel footers that I was going to use for my fabricated foundation walls will most likely be but a distant memory by time we get done.  For now we have to do a soil test / report and then we’ll work with the foundation company and possibly a structural engineer to determine a proper footer.  I suspect, and remember I’m a total lay person in this regard, but I suspect we’ll end up with concrete footings on the order of 5′ wide.  Which of course is an unplanned purchase.  But what can I do?  Not much but manage the situation and try to stay positive.  I can’t fret over that which I have no control.

In the 90 degree heat the wife wanted to join me and bring the boys out to the land when I met the excavator.  We got to see the hole and clay situation first hand.  We saw how you could push a metal rod only about 2 inches into the regular clay and about 8 inches into the blue clay. 

Picture of the hole today.  You can see the blue clay at the bottom corner.  The orange lines are where the footers will go.  The ledged walls will soon be excavated out at an angle for safety and stability.

We also learned that for safety sake the excavator has to dig out our foundation hole at a 45 degree angle to avoid cave ins and to keep things stable.  Another unplanned expense.

My quick drawing of our foundation hole cross section. Normally you can just dig straight up with a shelf ledge halfway up. In our case we'll dig at a 45 to prevent cave in.

 We’ll find out more tomorrow to see what the effect is on schedule.  At this point I have to assume the foundation will be delayed.  They were supposed to start building it tomorrow, but we’ll see how long that delay will be.  I actually, knock on wood, don’t think it’ll be that long of a delay.

As always leave it to a toddler to keep life in perspective.  In the midst of a bummer of a day my wife relayed a story that made me chuckle.  She asked him what he wanted to be for Halloween.

“Do you want to be a fireman?”


“Do you want to be a dragon?”


“Do you want to be a tomato plant?”


I think I laughed hard enough I cried.

So as long as little kids around the world want to be tomato plants, or god knows what else, for Halloween, I’m pretty sure us adults can survive life’s little setbacks and roadblocks. 

In the grand scheme of things it’s only blue clay.  We’ll figure it out.  If not, I’ll be the guy just around the bend on the roadside with the “Blue Clay For Sale” cardboard sign…..right next to the kid dressed up as a tomato plant.

Blue Clay For Sale